New York CNN Business  — 

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Some of the biggest names in right-wing media are questioning the official Covid-19 death toll. Indeed, they’re suggesting the numbers might be inflated in an effort to paint President Trump and/or the crisis in the worst possible light. In recent days, a version of this theory has been floated by personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson, Brit Hume, and “Diamond & Silk.”

Hume, who previously tweeted that New York’s “fatality numbers are inflated,” tweeted on Tuesday evening, “Well Dr. [Deborah] Birx just said it. Anyone in U.S. who dies with Covid-19, regardless of what else may be wrong, is now being recorded as a Covid-19 death.” (This is not quite what Birx said. She explained that if someone who goes into the hospital to be treated for the virus also “had a pre-existing condition” that eventually caused the individual to die, that would be counted as a Covid-19 death.)

Hume later appeared on Carlson’s show and offered the same message he did in his tweet. “There may be reasons people seek an inaccurate death count,” Carlson replied. The Fox News prime time host added, “When journalists work with numbers, there sometimes is an agenda.”

Hume and Carlson are not alone. Levin tweeted Tuesday evening that he has “suspected this for weeks.” And Limbaugh, who initially dismissed the coronavirus as the “common cold,” said recently, “It’s admittedly speculation, but … what if we are recording a bunch of deaths to coronavirus which really should not be chalked up to coronavirus?”

The death toll is likely *UNDERSTATED*

Right-wing media luminaries are advancing their theory in the face of reporting which indicates that the coronavirus death toll is being understated. An April 5 NYT story noted, “Across the United States, even as coronavirus deaths are being recorded in terrifying numbers — many hundreds each day — the true death toll is likely much higher.”

The NYT story cited hospital officials, doctors, public health experts and medical examiners who said the official death toll doesn’t account for many people: “The undercount is a result of inconsistent protocols, limited resources and a patchwork of decision making from one state or county to the next.”

NYC Council health committee chair Mark Levine also said on Twitter the official NYC death toll “is certainly an undercount.” Levine explained, “Only people who die at home who are known to have a *positive coronavirus test* have the disease listed as the official cause on their death certificate. We know there are many others going uncounted.”

Trump (for now) says death count is accurate

Trump was asked on Tuesday at the White House briefing about the accuracy of the death count, with a reporter suggesting it is a possible undercount because of the reasons outlined above. Trump pushed back, saying, “I think they’re pretty accurate on the death count. Somebody dies, I think the states have been pretty accurate.” Trump added, “No, the death counts, I think they are very, very accurate.” That said, given how the speculation about death counts being inflated are saturating right-wing media, it would not surprise me one bit if Trump later repeated the theory.


– Chris Hayes unloaded on the Wisconsin Republican Party for forcing an election amid the coronavirus crisis, saying the images of people lined up to vote looked like “a dystopian vision of an election amidst a pandemic…” (Mediaite)

– Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show Tuesday night, Trump continued promoting hydroxychloroquine and attacked the media… (Twitter)

– Network news analyst Andrew Tyndall: “The nightly newscasts have an unusual opportunity to regain the status they once enjoyed, as a regular journalistic date with a mass audience…” (Tyndall Report)

Speaking of the evening news: Lester Holt did a Q&A with Stephen Battaglio on anchoring the “NBC Nightly News” from his home: “Two weeks in, now it’s kind of my norm…” (LA Times)

– If you’re appearing on television from home, Tom Ford has some advice for you on how to setup your home studio to look good on camera… (NYT)

– The White House continues to dodge questions over why it is helping a right-wing conspiracy theorist from OAN to break the rules implemented by WHCA to increase social distancing at the daily briefings. I checked in with Stephanie Grisham and Hogan Gidley again on Tuesday and asked why they are giving the tiny far-right outlet preferential treatment, but did not receive a response back…